Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Burn 'Em

Two weeks ago, at the height of the media frenzy into the foreign prisoners fiasco, the Prime Minister attempted to defuse the crisis with yet another poorly considered kneejerk response. It wasn't unexpected. At PMQs, he said:
I think that it is now time that anybody who is convicted of an imprisonable offence and who is a foreign national is deported.
It was a spectacularly reactionary notion, even for Blair.

There are an extraordinary number of imprisonable offences their are in this country. Here's an example. Under section 132(1)(a) of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, it is an offence to organise a demonstration in a public place in the designated area around parliament without first seeking and aquiring authorisation from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Section 136(1) lays out the penalty for organising an unauthorised demonstration.
A person guilty of an offence under section 132(1)(a) is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale, or to both.
51 weeks in prison for organising a demonstration. Remarkable. (See Bloggerheads for more on the exclusion zone.)

Whether someone was actually sentenced to 51 weeks in prison for this "offence"would be irrelevant under Blair's proposal; the point is that this is an imprisonable offence. It is, I hope, clear that a foreign national who'd organised an unauthorised demonstration should not automatically be deported. That is the system Blair advocated in the House of Commons two weeks ago; foreign nationals convicted of an imprisonable offence should be deported.

Many people are convicted of imprisonable offences but are not actually sent to prison. Blair, a man who always chooses his words with care, deliberately included these non-prisoners.

Obviously the reality is that if we are to deport foreign nationals convicted of crimes after they've served any sentence passed down by the courts these cases need to be considered individually on their own merits. By a happy coincidence, that's what the law actually says should happen. The recent furore was been caused by the fact that we now know that the Home Office has not been meeting its obligations to follow procedures as set out under the existing law.

Working out how best to address this problem isn't rocket science. The Home Office needs to be reformed to enable it to meet its responsibilities to us, the people. Real reforms like these however don't seem to interest Blair. He is, for the most part, addicted to the quick fix policy announcement. Often these announcements are either totally unworkable or insanely authoritarian. In this case, it's probably both. They do make him sound tough though.

At today's PMQs, Dave the boy wonder asked Blair whether he stood by his statement of two weeks ago given the variations we've heard since from his government (transcribed from the Beeb's doodah).
The whole point about it is it only applies to people who have gone to prison. That’s why we’re talking about foreign prisoners. Now it may be that if they were sent to prison, for example, for a very short space of time and they’ve been in this country for a long period of time then the presumption of automatic deportation would not apply. But in the vast bulk of cases, as was explained, there will be an automatic presumption now to deport and the vast bulk of those people will indeed be deported.
It seems that Blair has finally found that reverse gear he's been missing all these years. Common sense and discretionary judgement in individual cases will not, after all, be legislated against. It's a small step back towards sanity. Bizarrely, Blair's still insisting that he's moving forwards. He really is a man apart.

What he said next though, is a serious issue.
And those people, in my view, should be deported irrespective of any claim that they have that the country to which they are going back may not be safe.
This, in the end, is about the kind of country we want to live in. Blair is now saying that we will deport people to countries irrespective of the dangers they might face as a result. In effect, the PM is saying that we'll deport people irrespective of whether they face being slowly and brutally tortured to death at the hands of the government we deliver them too. I make no apologies for using an extreme example. That, when you take away the Blairy words, is what he said.

For those who argue that "if you can't do the time, you shouldn't do the crime", or what have you, I'd say this. There are some activities that civilized countries just do not participate in. End of.

Fortunately, Blair's new lunacy will obviously come into conflict with various international obligations so it'll be difficult to implement such a policy. That he even wants to attempt it however is yet another reason why he should already be touring the US after-dinner speech circuit. It is a constant source of astonishment to me that there are people in this country who still believe Blair leads a progressive government.

Tags: , ,

No comments: